Perfect Hair

| by Teal Cracraft |

I went to bed at 9:00 p.m. that night. Exhausted after a long week on the road. At 10:30 p.m. my phone rang and I ignored it. At 10:32 p.m. my phone rang again and I turned it off. At 11:00 p.m. I awoke to my husband gently shaking me and telling me I needed to get up. He’d been in another town visiting friends when he got the call. He made the two hour trip home to be sure that he was the one who broke the news. My mom was in the hospital and would be transferred to a state institution because Florida law treated attempted suicide like a crime. She would be in lock down until a family member took responsibility for her or the state determined that she was no longer a threat to herself.

I stared at my husband trying to process his words as my mind raced with a million thoughts. What happened, who found her, was this my fault, how had she done it, why had she done it, was she looking for attention or did she actually want to die? My mind finally settled on the last email she’d sent me. It was filled with anger, hurt and resentment and it would have been the last the communication I’d ever get from her if she’d been successful. I tried to slow my mind and assess how I was feeling, but there were no feelings. I was numb, hollow and completely disconnected from my relationship with her. I needed more than she was ever capable of giving and I expected more than I had any right to demand.

My brother, my aunt and I bought our plane tickets and landed in Florida the next day. We agreed to present a united front, a tough love approach that we thought might break through the walls she’d carefully built to keep us out. We were greeted by a woman that none of us recognized. Her always perfect hair in tangles, her face stripped of the cosmetic mask she normally wore, her tailored clothing gone and replaced by a t-shirt and sweatpants that were stained and much too large. She looked wild and hunted and my heart broke as I took in the sight of her sitting in a plastic chair at a plastic table in a white room with barred windows. I wanted to help her, but in that moment I knew that only she could do that.

I’m not sure how I expected our family reunion in the mental institution to play out. But, I guess I thought my mom would be more vulnerable and open to changing some of the damaging behavior that brought us to this place. She explained how she did it, who discovered her and what happened in the hospital to bring her back to life, but didn’t want to discuss the details of her slide into total darkness. As I listened to her, I felt the final thread that tied us together beginning to break. I understood that my feelings of guilt and responsibility for her couldn’t save her. No words of encouragement, no acts of love could make her see herself as worthy, could make her love herself.

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